Tungsten, also known as wolfram, is a metal with many uses. It is commonly used to produce electrical wires and heating and electrical contacts, but is also used in welding, heavy metal alloys, heat sinks, turbine blades and as a substitute for lead in bullets.
According to the most recent US Geological Survey (USGS) report on the metal, world tungsten production reached 87,000 metric tons (MT) in 2015, an increase over 2014’s 86,800 MT. The market remained in oversupply, putting pressure on prices, leading a number of Chinese producers to announce plans to reduce their output and forcing Canada’s only tungsten mine into care-and-maintenance mode.
However, that didn’t stop a fair amount of new production from entering the market. A mine in Vietnam continued to ramp up production, while new mines opened in the UK and Zimbabwe. Here’s a brief overview of the 10 countries that produced the most tungsten last year.
Mine production: 71,000 MT
China is the largest producer of tungsten, accounting for over 80 percent of the world’s total output, and is also the world’s largest consumer of the metal. A 2014 report on the tungsten market predicts that tungsten supply growth will eventually slow due to China’s extensive control over the space, but for now, tungsten production isn’t letting up. In 2015, the country produced 71,000 MT of tungsten, the same amount as the previous year.
Mine production: 5,000 MT
Vietnam jumped two spots on the list to become the world’s second-largest tungsten producer for 2015. The country produced 5,000 MT in 2015 compared to 4,000 MT in 2014. Privately owned Masan Resources owns the Vietnam-based Nui Phao mine, the largest tungsten mine outside of China. Since Masan acquired the mine in 2010, it has seen consistent growth.
Mine production: 2,500 MT
Russia produced slightly less tungsten in 2015 than it did in 2014, dropping to 2,500 MT last year from 2,800 MT the year previous. According to MetalBulletin (subscription), tungsten production in the country was badly affected by falling prices in 2015. Denis Gorbachev, director of business development at Russia’s Wolfram Company, told the publication that no new mining projects have started in the country, with existing ones being slowed or put on hold.
Mine production: 1,700 MT
Canada’s tungsten production dropped drastically in 2015 to just 1,700 MT, down from 2,340 MT a year earlier. As mentioned above, Canadian tungsten output was hampered when North American Tungsten (TSXV:NTC) was forced to put its Cantung mine into care-and-maintenance mode last October. Cantung is one of the largest tungsten mines outside of China. As CBC News reported at the time, the company is aiming to resume production in the summer of 2016.
Mine production: 1,200 MT
Despite moves to promote the tungsten industry in the country, Bolivia’s tungsten production remained fairly flat at 1,200 MT for 2015. The country put out 1,250 MT a year earlier.
In May 2013, Kennametal (NYSE:KMT) acquired tungsten processing operations in Bolivia, also securing related material-sourcing agreements. The company hopes the move will eventually allow it to expand global growth while avoiding risks associated with owning mining operations.
Mine production: 1,000 MT
Despite the tightening regulations surrounding conflict minerals, in recent years Rwanda’s tungsten output has remained fairly robust. The country produced 1,000 MT of tungsten in both 2014 and 2015.
Mine production: 870 MT
Austria produced 870 MT of tungsten in 2015, the same amount it produced in 2014. Much of that production can be attributed to the Mittersill mine, which is located in Salzburg and owned by Wolfram Bergbau and Hutten. The Mittersill mine hosts the largest tungsten deposit in Europe.
Mine production: 730 MT
Spain made it onto the list of the world’s top tungsten-producing countries last year with 730 MT of production. Still, that marks a drop from its 800 MT of output in 2014.
There are a number of companies engaged in the exploration, development and mining of tungsten assets in Spain. Examples include Almonty Industries (TSXV:AII), Ormonde Mining (LSE:ORM), Plymouth Minerals (ASX:PLH) and W Resources (LSE:WRES).
Mine production: 630 MT
Like a number of other countries on the list, Portugal saw its tungsten output drop in 2015; its production of the metal fell to an estimated 630 MT from 671 MT a year earlier.
10. United Kingdom
Mine production: 600 MT
Finally, the UK made it onto the board with 600 MT of production. In the fall of 2015, Wolf Minerals (ASX:WLF,AIM:WLFE) opened its Hemerdon tungsten mine in Devon. According to the BBC, Hemerdon was the first tungsten mine to open in Britain in over 40 years.
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This article was originally published on February 25, 2016.